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Horizontal-axis washing machines PATH Answers Your Questions
About Horizontal-Axis Washers

Horizontal-axis washing machines, also called front loaders * or tumble-action washers, entered the U.S. marketplace a little more than a decade ago. Long used in Europe for their reduced space, energy, and water requirements, they are finally gaining a foothold here in the states.

How do horizontal-axis washers work? (Pros and Cons)

Picture a washboard bent into a tube, and suspended in a pool of soapy water. Loading up the machine, you are putting your clothes into that tube. The drum on its horizontal axis mimics the washboard method, lifting the clothes out of the soapy water and plunging them back in.

How much do they cost?

Front-load washers range from the mid-$500s to well over $2,000. If you opt for a ENERGY STAR compliant product on the lower end of the price spectrum, it will easily pay back the price premium over a regular top-loader. An ENERGY STAR qualified clothes washer can save you $550 in operating costs over its lifetime compared to a regular clothes washer.

The high-speed spin cycle on horizontal axis machines removes most of the water, so drying times are reduced, saving even more energy. Line drying saves the most energy.

Where can I find one?

Most of the big-box retailers now sell front load machines. ENERGY STAR's website has a convenient store locator where you can search by ZIP code and product, but just because a store isn't listed doesn't mean they don't carry the product you're looking for. Check with small local appliance shops in person or on the phone if they don't have a Web site. Some manufacturers ship direct to consumers.

Which model is the best?

This is where doing your research comes in. Check consumer review sites, such as Epinions and ConsumerReports, to see how other buyers fared with specific models. Efficient models range from 1.6 to 4.0 cubic feet of load capacity. Make sure you are looking at appropriately sized machines. If energy and water savings are a motivating factor, buy a machine with the smallest capacity that is practical to your lifestyle.

A Real Impact

Consider this: If just 1 percent of the approximately 10 million loads of laundry done in the U.S. every day were washed in an efficient horizontal-axis machine instead of a conventional top-loader, we would save 25 million gallons of water each day! That's as much as 250 households use in a year.

If you stick with regular detergent, reduce your normal amount by 75 percent.


Front-load washers use less water, and require much less detergent than regular top loaders. Some manufacturers recommend using high-efficiency (HE) detergent. If you stick with regular detergent, reduce your normal amount by 75 percent. Add fabric softener if excessive suds are an issue.

Horizontal Axis Washing Machines: Pros and Cons



Energy Savings: Horizontal-axis clothes washers can save as much as 60 percent of the electricity used by traditional washers.

Water Savings: Front loaders use one-third of the water used by most top-loaders cleaning the same volume of clothes.

Long Cycle Time: The 110 volt models take from 30 to 90 minutes to wash a load, depending on which setting you choose.

Lower Utility Bills: Energy and water savings translate into money savings on utility bills. Washing our clothes accounts for 2.6 percent of residential energy use, check your bills and do the math to see what your annual savings could be.

Lower to the Ground: Loading and unloading these machines requires bending, since the door is on the front. Perfect for those in wheelchairs, the lower access could be tough for those with back problems. To raise the washers, manufacturers sell pedestals for around $100.

Drying is less Trying: The high-speed spin cycle on horizontal axis machines removes most of the water, so drying times are reduced, saving even more energy. Most accounts report drying time is reduced to one-third that required with regular washing machines.

Some Adaptation Required: Some models may come equipped with unusual plugs that don't fit your outlets. Make sure you can find the appropriate plug adaptor before committing to such a model.

Easier on Clothes: The washboard action is gentler on clothes than the typical agitator found in most top-loaders.

Tough on Dirt: By all accounts, when used properly horizontal-axis washers get clothes cleaner.

Complex Repairs: These machines are more complex than top-loaders, so repairs can be expensive. Also, finding properly trained repair personnel may be difficult. Your salesperson should be able to tell you about the availability of local factory-authorized service agents.

Space Savings: Generally a front load washer is physically smaller than an equivalent top-loader.

* Though the terms horizontal-axis washers, tumble action, and front loader are used interchangeably, there are top-loading machines on the market that clean without an agitator and conserve water and energy.

Content updated on 2/4/2008

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